Spirituality vs. religion: Religious & political fundamentalism vs. reason, science, truth, universal spiritual principles

clouds - lenticular sunsetRealistic, positive, spiritually principled practices that foster compassion, acceptance, unity, sustainability, and respect for nature should be stressed over ancient religious belief systems that so often lead to division, strife, and ultimately war & destruction. Put another way: Truth, reality, science, and common-sense spiritual practices should play stronger roles than religious tradition, ritual, and superstition.

Please consider the possibility that putting mankind’s best foot forward, especially in our communication and actions toward others, must include living according to basic, universal spiritual principles in all areas of our lives. Individuals, groups, and nations should not expect others to adopt their own culture-specific or religion-specific traditions, practices, or beliefs; instead, mutual respect should reign.

The spiritual truths that lead to genuine inner peace — those we strive to understand and practice — cannot be taught by words alone; they must be experienced deeply in our personal spiritual practices before they are ultimately realized. Achieving higher levels of spiritual understanding is more experiential than intellectual.

Even so, we thoroughly enjoy (and believe it worthwhile) to discuss these issues which, on the surface, may seem to pit old-time religion against what is, in the modern sense, genuine spirituality.

We deeply hope that the words in this blog will gently push readers in the right direction and help to open minds, foster deeper understanding, and make meaningful spiritual experiences more likely for everyone we touch.

On this page:

photo: beautiful clouds For as long as I can remember, I have been more concerned with learning the truth than worrying about conformity; I’m not prone to adopting popular views, opinions, or beliefs just to fit in.

I did not get serious about intellectually honest & objective spiritual and religious research until my early 30s, so I spent many years floundering in what one might call religious confusion. Although I’d been raised in Church of Christ-flavored Christian fundamentalism, I knew in my heart that the brand of religious fundamentalism I’d been raised to believe did not conform to truth and reality. For whatever reason, I danced around the issue and avoided the serious quest for related knowledge for many years, as though my concern on the subject, my thirst for the truth on these matters, would eventually fade away, and I’d not have to face it at all!

Well, it did not go away; if anything, my desire to learn the truth only intensified. Until, finally…

hiking Fiery Gizzard trails: Monteagle, TennesseeA series of events and circumstances led to a brand new personal era defined by my taking these subjects seriously enough to engage in an earnest, ongoing study to get closer to truth, weed out falsehoods, and hopefully develop some reasonable conclusions about religious belief and spiritual practice.

I finally had the will and determination to affect a sincere and objective ongoing study. I finally realized how ridiculous and meaningless it would be if I limited myself to research materials that I knew were not really objective. I finally knew that any such study with teeth, with balls – if it was to have any real meaning or value at all – MUST include source material from skeptic, agnostic, Eastern, Western, atheist, fundamentalist, humanist, scholarly, etc. worldviews. In other words…

These issues cannot be resolved from the church library.

hiking Fiery Gizzard trails: Monteagle, TennesseeI finally knew that to conduct this study and ask myself these tough questions solely in the church library would be silly to the Nth degree. I finally knew I had to consult the writings and opinions and beliefs of some of the most intelligent, inspirational, admired, spiritually centered people who have ever lived – not just church folk!

I finally had to know what amazing, intelligent people believed – and far more importantly, WHY they believed it… what LED them to believe it. Albert Einstein, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, Charles Darwin, Thomas Paine, Mark Twain, Andrew Carnegie, Ayn Rand, Carl Sagan, Galileo, Helen Keller, Tolstoy, Susan B. Anthony, Thomas Edison – NOT to drop my own belief system and adopt theirs, but to implement their conclusions into my study! Why on earth not?

What did Lennon, Hitchcock, Orwell, and Gaines believe? These people had the means to travel the world and discuss religion and spirituality with whomever they wanted. And many of them did just that: launched their own personal, world-wide, globe-trekking spiritual quests! (Now THAT would ROCK!)

What was the spiritual quest of Steve Jobs like? Wouldn’t THAT interest anyone who’s not already damn certain that their own beliefs hold fast and true in the face of science, truth, experience, and reality?

If I may speak frankly… I sincerely hope you have spent some serious time in similar pursuits to decide where to bank your faith. If you’re still involved in the religion from your birth and have never examined anything else, then I hope you are inspired to do so… if not by me, then by something or someone, before it is no longer an option for you.

In retrospect, I would not trade that time and experience for anything!

Nowadays, I deeply embrace these words of Thomas Jefferson:

Thomas Jefferson portraits - black and white
I never submitted the whole system of my opinions to the creed of any party of men whatever in religion, in philosophy, in politics, or in anything else where I was capable of thinking for myself. Such an addiction is the last degradation of a free and moral agent.
– Thomas Jefferson in his Letter to Francis Hopkinson dated 13 March 1789

I believe it is becoming increasingly important in this day and age to abandon ancient systems that lead to division, strife, and ultimately war and destruction, in favor of more accurate, realistic, positive, helpful worldviews that embrace compassion and unity. I also believe that remaining silent, staying mum, maintaining a nonchalant appearance of indifference, etc. – things we might do in order to remain “above the fray” – may not be the best course of action.

For example, I’m becoming increasingly concerned about the apparent spread of ultra-conservative religious fundamentalism and dogma spilling into politics from the church. Particularly disturbing are the trends that set nature and science aside in favor of big business and pseudoscience.

For instance, have you heard of a group called Resisting the Green Dragon? This is but one example of a potentially dangerous trend: it’s an organization whose mission is to spread potentially harmful disinformation: that environmentalism is a global danger, a sin – an "affront to Jesus".

These kinds of extremist views are made possible by a handful of human tendencies:

  • Blatant intellectual dishonesty
  • Conformity with peers, or to join a group
  • Ignorance to such a degree, it almost has to be intentional

Think of the most enlightened, genuine spiritual teacher (whether historical or modern) who has earned your respect. Would this spiritual guru support the common practice of abandoning one’s principles when they become an obstacle to wealth, power, or fame?

Why don’t more people carefully, objectively consider…

Why is modern politics such a spiritual desert? Why don’t politically active people who publicly wear their religion on their sleeve actually practice (or even appear to practice) simple universal spiritual principles?

Why do so many conservative fundamentalist Christians in the United States cheer so loudly in support of the death penalty? Does the Bible — or their strict, literal interpretation of the Bible — contain an exemption clause to its exhortation re: treating others as we would like to be treated? Does the Bible say, "Thou shalt not kill, except when…"?

Why are most ultra-conservative Americans more familiar with movies and TV shows than the very book they claim to base their lives upon?

Why do religious fundamentalists believe (or pretend to believe, at least) everything they hear at church, then behave so un-Christ-like at other times?

If the Hard Right people really are honest adherents to "the one true religion," why do they seem so ill-at-ease and full of fear when it comes to alternative worldviews, cultures, or lifestyles? Must they complain so loudly about those who believe differently — criticizing and condemning other religions, countries, etc., as if they themselves were esoterics holding all the right answers?

Why does the Hard Right insist upon forcing its religious views on the rest of us? Are they really so fed up and discontented with this wonderful, pluralist, secular system devised by Thomas Jefferson and our other Founding Fathers? On that note, why do some Far Rightists keep trying to convince other Americans that Thomas Jefferson shared their fundamentalist religious beliefs?

How can Rick Santorum — or anyone else — expect intelligent people to believe his fearmongering — for example, that higher education in the United States is actually being controlled by Satan?

Major points

god post - imageIn writing and publishing this blog, I’m essentially trying to convey the most significant, interesting, and important “findings” of my ongoing study and research of religion and science, spirituality, and related subjects so far.

As would be expected of any genuine pursuit of truth, all of my present views, beliefs, and opinions are subject to change based on the continued application of valid truth detection tools such as reason, logic, science, experience, empirical research/ evidence, and so on. Rigidity, closed-mindedness, and refusal to modify one’s beliefs are hallmarks of untruth and dishonesty and, when present, will not allow any progress to be made in a genuine quest for truth.

I am traveling along a path, so unless I’m going in circles or stuck in the mud, the scenery changes along the way.

Based on the totality of everything I’ve taken in and experienced in my life so far, I believe the following to be true:

  1. The real meaning and intent of Christianity has been lost and corrupted into today’s far-right religious fundamentalism.
  2. All major religions and spiritual paths contain some truths and are in basic agreement about the most important things (compassion, tolerance, acceptance, attainment of inner peace, morality, behavior, attitude, etc.).
  3. Supernatural stories and dogma were never intended to be the central message of religion. The backbone of religions and spiritual paths is how mankind ought to live and how we should treat one another; they attempt to instruct us on how we might attain happiness, compassion, and inner peace – if only we would choose to do so. Take an honest look, and it becomes quite clear: rigid interpretations cause far more division and strife than unity and contentment.
  4. The complete separation of church and state – keeping dogmatic, supernatural, fundamentalist religious beliefs completely out of politics – is the right thing to do. Left-wing, centrist, and right-wing American political groups are all fine, they all have their places – as long as the critical, uniquely American principles of pluralism, freedom of religion, and separation of church and state are fully supported. (There is a vast difference between the religious right vs. the hard right, for example, just as there are substantial differences between liberals, socialists, and communists.)
  5. Science, research, and development must once again become a priority in this country. Leaders who fear, loathe, or otherwise eschew science (whether or not personal religion is a factor) should not be elected.
  6. Partisanship (political fundamentalism) might be reasonable on occasion; however, habitual, hyper-partisanship is in clear conflict with basic spiritual principles. When party politics (“toeing the line”) has a higher priority than common sense and truth, it’s a problem; intellectual honesty about what’s right for our country must trump political affiliation in all decision making. This is a no-brainer, but it requires the ego to be set aside.

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Goals

god post - image

  • To encourage open-mindedness
  • To learn more about viewpoints that may be contra-indicated, or in opposition to existing views and opinions
  • To encourage pluralism and maybe a certain level of syncretism
  • To encourage the appreciation of the present moment, mindfulness, and reflective spiritual practices such as meditation
  • To encourage acceptance, compassion, and other basic, broadly agreed-upon spiritual principles
  • To encourage reasonable skepticism and discourage denialism
  • To search for truth and write about truth as objectively as possible
  • To discourage the acceptance of false information as being real, true, or correct
  • To discourage rigid, divisive, fideistic fundamentalism and related worldviews that accept only their own opinions and beliefs, believing all others to be wrong (or even evil)
  • To discourage political partisanship
  • To promote spiritual unity and oneness
  • To continue on a lifelong path of seeking the truth

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Objectivity

I have described Search for Truth as an honest, objective look at religious fundamentalism and an account of a heartfelt journey of spiritual seeking and discovery; however, given my humanity, pure unadulterated objectivity cannot be achieved. Although claiming full objectivity would be untruthful, I believe it’s fair to say I’m relatively objective (see the list of objectivity factors below).
balance
Thinking men and women are generally aware that the articles featured in newspapers and magazines are stories in that they do not deliver absolute truth; that is, they provide commentary from a particular angle – regardless of the writer’s intended or desired level of objectivity. As the psychology book The Happiness Trap points out so effectively, all human thoughts are merely stories in this sense.

In reality, the process of spiritual or religious truth seeking is virtually worthless unless the seeker possesses a reasonable level of objectivity; that is, if meaningful results are genuinely desired (they aften aren’t).

A friend recently told me that he is so attached to his belief system that he would not care if those religious beliefs turned out to be incorrect, or discordant with reality.

If my heart already clings rigidly to a particular worldview, then it doesn’t make a whole of sense for me to engage in a quest for truth. Enter dogma. Because most of the big questions already have carefully constructed answers in most major fundamentalist belief systems, such a person would have no need or desire to take the necessary plunge; it would be little more than an academic exercise, if not a complete waste of time.

Only with an open heart and an open mind concerning prevailing thought and commonly accepted stories (i.e., the originally held worldview) does an honest spiritual quest become attractive or necessary, and only with an open mind can one begin to draw nearer to the truth. Such a mind is more prepared to engage in deep, critical thought and must be willing to acknowledge the possibility that current beliefs may be wrong: impossible for the closed minded.

While we do our very best to approach the study and research of religion, spirituality, and science with the utmost objectivity, we fail at that (of course). No one is perfectly objective and unbiased, particularly regarding potentially emotional topics like religion and politics.

Factors that make me reasonably objective

I believe the following characteristics and varied life experiences have considerably broadened my perspective and have helped me to achieve a reasonably, comparatively objective viewpoint:

  1. I am not an advocate of any specific system of religious belief as the being the only “right” path.
  2. I am not presently a member of, employed by, or otherwise connected to any group that holds an opinion regarding a specific, fundamentalist religious belief system.
  3. At various times I have held widely divergent views: fundamentalist Christianity, “real” Christianity, Deism, Buddhism, Taoism, secular humanism, pantheism, agnosticism (and even atheism for a short period in my late teens).
  4. I am not a member of any political party; I do not respect habitual partisanship (the stubbornly partisan who toe the party line, come hell or high water). I have supported political candidates from various political parties: Republicans, Democrats, Independents, Greens, and Libertarians. My political decisions are made on a case-by-case basis, which is – I believe – the only proper way to go about it.
  5. I associate with people & have friends residing across the religious and political spectrum.

(If there is any outside pressure on this writer – whether in truth or only in mind – then it is probably in favor of a "light version" of Christian fundamentalism, as those are my roots. Ideally, I’d believe that what my parents, school, and church taught me was true and correct; however, such is not what I found to be true…)

From a philosophical perspective, there’s a convincing argument that there is no such thing as objective truth to a human being. Some of the philosophers known to have tackled this issue include Immanuel Kant and others; some are listed in the resources section at the end of the post entitled, When seeking answers, carefully consider the source.
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Respect and compassion

god post - imageI respect those whose beliefs differ significantly from my own, particularly when those beliefs are well thought-out and carefully considered. I admire those who are willing to delve beneath the surface and examine the underlying basis for their religious beliefs, spiritual practices, and political decisions.

Personally, I find it far more challenging to respect the religious beliefs of people who have obviously never conducted a genuine search for themselves; those who automatically accept as truth whatever they are being taught, those who merely “toe the party line,” or those who choose their beliefs for the wrong reasons (e.g., the popularity of the belief system, to gain social acceptance, out of fear, etc.). A standard example of this type might be the lifelong fundamentalist Christian who has never considered anything else and who actually knows far less about the Bible than does the average atheist. (This variety of believer seems to be in abundant supply in Middle Tennessee.)

BOOed in the Bible belt

To say the least, my views are quite unpopular here in the Bible belt. Even so, I avoid the brunt of this negativity by being respectful toward others.

I’ve noticed a tendency for secular writers – especially those who aren’t big fans of religious fundamentalism – to resort to unfriendly, combative, and often downright insulting attitudes toward religious fundamentalist adherents. Given the notorious tendency for religious discussions to become heated and degrade into name-calling and other uncivilized exchange, maintaining an upbeat spirit is not an always an easy task for this subject material. But being passionate about a subject does not require one to engage in hurtful comments toward those who may disagree.

If you’ve ever read certain books that discourage Christian fundamentalist belief systems, you probably know that some of them are downright mean-spirited toward the very people they are trying to convince: not a good practice! For example, in his otherwise excellent book Letter to a Christian Nation, author Sam Harris basically berates fundamentalist Christians throughout. He might as well just call them morons. Surely it is obvious that using such a tone does far more harm than good!

In contrast, I’m making an effort to achieve an overall positive tone and to show compassion for all. I really do aim to practice what I preach.

My heartfelt appreciation goes out to those who have encouraged me to be open and honest about these matters, and to set aside any and all worries about what others might think about these serious, purposeful writings, worldviews, and beliefs.

To each reader: Good luck in your own personal quest for truth!
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Resources

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Truth and happiness

The subject matter of this blog – Search for Truth – relates to sorting out what is true and what isn’t with regard to fundamentalist religion: Christian fundamentalism, in particular. As such, this is more of a quest for the truth than a quest for happiness.

But wait a second. Isn’t the search for truth the same thing, or at least closely related to, the quest for happiness? Well, yes and no.

In a sense, it is important that one understand the difference between the pursuit of truth and the pursuit of happiness. One of the great spiritual questions to ask oneself is this: Would you rather be right, or would you rather be happy? The question itself falsely implies the two are mutually exclusive; of course, they don’t have to be. But in everyday communication, relating with others, and life in general, there are times when it is necessary to make a choice between being right and being happy.

If you know anyone who still utters phrases such as, “I told you so,” or “See? I was right again!” then you know conversing with such people can be a real chore. Simply put, one must not ever take things like this personally. (Ideally, one would not take anything personally.)

To a fully enlightened mind there’s not much of a difference, if any, between questing for truth and seeking happiness. However, a fully enlightened person is not likely to be reading this blog; likewise, enlightened beings would not be writing this, either. (Yes, we can admit this – it’s supposed to be a quest for truth, after all.)

An enlightened being might be more concerned with understanding than being understood. The Prayer of St. Francis, my favorite Christian prayer, drives this home. On the other hand, Search for Truth (this blog) seems more concerned about changing others’ minds and being right. The ego has crept into the message of this blog. It can’t really be helped as the writers and contributors to this blog are human beings who, we hope, will seek enlightenment (or heaven, or salvation, or that peace that passes all understanding, or nirvana, or whatever the reader may wish to call it) as long as life and mind allow.

At first, I wanted this blog to be both things: a quest for truth and a path to joy. I am still mulling this over. Perhaps the Search for Truth can be both things after all.

Thanks for reading.
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butterflies enjoying my sweaty bandana(NOTE: The disclaimer has been moved to a separate page; this page is FAR too long already…)

WARNING: Knowledge about spiritual and religious matters is not a substitute for genuine spiritual practice. Action is required in order to proceed along the path.

Everything is “spiritual”; there is no such thing as a distinct line separating the spiritual from the non-spiritual.

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Please help spread the message any way you can:

  1. Fundamentalism — whether religious or political — is one of the true, major, current scourges on the planet; nothing good can come from it.
  2. The way forward for all mankind is to embrace basic universal spiritual principles in all affairs.
  3. Individuals, groups, and nations should not expect others to adopt their own culture-specific or religion-specific traditions, practices, or beliefs; instead, mutual respect should reign.

Media, culture, modern trends: Dive at your own risk

There’s a reason this item is listed last…

Current religio-political trends in the media and Western culture somehow manage to be superficial and critical at the same time. This broad subject area is composed largely of hot air, and as such, can be rather maddening. Delving into the current media detritus on a daily basis can fan the emotional flames — and if there are none, then it will almost certainly generate a few sparks for the bone-dry kindling. This is especially true during election season — a period of time that seems to be rapidly losing its distinction from non-election season.

In the United States we are facing several Hard Right religio-political pollutants, including:

Fundamentalist Christian dominionism
American exceptionalism